Trump, Britain First, and the Purveyors of Racism and Bigotry
During my reporting for a profile of Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, this summer, I would occasionally find myself scrolling through the replies and comments on his various social-media feeds. Since he emerged as a national figure during his election campaign, in 2016, Khan, who is a practicing Muslim, has faced a predictable cascade of hate-filled garbage from far-right groups and their sympathizers. He is a traitor. He is an occupier. Under Khan, “Londonistan” will be ruled by Sharia law. I must have spent a couple of mornings scrolling and clicking, lost in obscure Islamophobic Twitter and Facebook accounts—adorned with images of lions, the Crusades, and other ephemera of white English nationalism—until I ended up watching a few videos produced by Britain First, a small Fascist political movement founded in 2011.
The videos were mostly of Britain First’s activities, and typically showed the group’s leader, Paul Golding, and his deputy, Jayda Fransen, making a supposedly dangerous visit to a “no go” area of a British town or a city—a neighborhood with a large Muslim population, in other words—in which they would hand out leaflets, harangue passersby, and usually be politely asked to leave. Britain First calls this “militant direct action” and, in the last three years, members of the group have filmed themselves barging their way into mosques and Islamic bookshops in stunts intended to make some news. On one such “Christian patrol” in Luton last year, Fransen, who is thirty-one, was dressed in what a judge later ruled was a “political uniform” of a long green coat and a black beret, bearing the insignia of Britain First. (Political uniforms were outlawed in Britain in the thirties because of their association with Fascism.) During the patrol, Fransen followed a veiled Muslim woman and her four children down the street and shouted about “the sexual urges” of Muslim men. “That’s why they are coming into my country raping women across the continent,” she said. Fransen was fined two thousand pounds and convicted of religiously aggravated harassment.